Brooklyn-South Square residents seek to reunite a divided neighborhood
By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — For 20 years, Anne Lyles has restored houses. Now, she’s working to restore a neighborhood.
Lyles and others have come together with petitions, plans and a vision to reunite two halves of Brooklyn-South Square, a neighborhood divided 30 years ago when the state widened South Long Street from two to five lanes.
“We understand that traffic needs to move through our neighborhood, but it needs to do so safely,” Lyles said.
Honored by historic preservationists for rehabilitating nine properties with her family over two decades, Lyles recently took her complaint about South Long Street to the City Council.
“This was put in as a huge, five-lane highway,” she told council members. “It really split the neighborhoods there so badly.”
A quiet effort to reunite Brooklyn-South Square by making the area safer for pedestrians and cyclists has become a public movement.
Residents presented petitions Nov. 1 to City Council asking for a lower speed limit, four-way stop signs, crosswalks and a push-button walk light to slow traffic, discourage cut-through drivers and make Brooklyn-South Square and the surrounding area more pedestrian-friendly.
Neighborhood leaders have met with city staff twice to outline their vision for the south square of Salisbury, which includes restoring South Long Street to two lanes and adding a landscaped median with turn cutouts, as well as bike lanes, from East Innes Street to Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue.
Now, children can’t cross South Long Street, also called Old Concord Road, to get to the city’s only public swimming pool, they said.
“We were very impressed with their insight and preparation,” Interim City Manager Doug Paris told City Council. “They have a broad vision for the neighborhood.”
With praise for the residents, the Council voted unanimously to lower the speed limit from 35 mph to 25 on portions of East Fisher, East Bank, East Horah, South Shaver and South Clay streets. Staff will study the proposed four-way stops and make a recommendation to the Council around the first of the year.
Other requested traffic calming measures require buy-in from the N.C. Department of Transportation because Long Street is state-maintained. City staffers plan to meet with state officials to determine their willingness to make changes on Long Street, including lowering the speed limit.
The grassroots effort stands a chance, said Joe Morris, director of Community Planning Services for the city.
“Any time you have a neighborhood that is doing groundwork and building consensus … that’s going to be more effective,” Morris said.
In 2009, the DOT Board of Transportation recognized that communities have visions for their neighborhoods that may not fully align with what’s best for traffic movement. The state has agreed to consider all modes of transportation, not just vehicles, when making traffic decisions.
That means pedestrians and bicyclists.
And that could help Brooklyn-South Square’s cause.
Predictions come true
In 1981, neighborhood residents tried to predict what would happen when the state widened Long Street from two to four and five lanes.
“When they widen this, it’ll be a race track,” James O’Neil told the Salisbury Post in a story that ran April 19, 1981.
A woman in the 200 block of East Fisher Street complained that walking across Long Street was already hazardous for children and adding three more lanes would make that journey even more dangerous.
They were right, current residents say.
“You are taking your life in your own hands to cross the street,” Lyles said.
With the blessing of the city, the state ran a five-lane highway through the middle of residential neighborhood, Karl Sale and Ken Weaver said. Leaders had written off the Brooklyn-South Square and thought the area would become industrial, they said.
But the old neighborhood, which dates back to 1882 and once included the Confederate prison, hung on. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Long Street is overbuilt for the amount of traffic it carries and presents a barrier to neighborhood cohesiveness, said Weaver, president of the Brooklyn South Square Neighborhood Association.
“We would like for drivers to know they are in a neighborhood,” he said.
Encouraged by efforts so far
Weaver and Sale, who met with city staff, said they have been encouraged by the response.
Morris pointed out the city’s master plan for downtown Salisbury, updated last year, shows a landscaped median running in the middle of Long Street. The city and neighborhood are on the same page, he told the Post.
Long Street carries about the same amount of traffic in a day — 7,600 vehicles — as Fulton Street, a two-lane road. Statesville Boulevard, a four-lane road, carries twice as much traffic as Long Street.
“I think a ‘road diet’ for Long Street is feasible, but it needs to be designed properly to achieve the desired results,” said Wendy Brindle, city traffic engineer.
A road diet uses restriping to change a four-lane street into a two-lane street with bike lanes, a turning lane or wider sidewalks.
In 1981, the state’s traffic count showed Long Street’s two lanes were adequate to handle traffic until 1995. But faced with the most congested intersection on Innes Street, the city argued the daily traffic count on Long Street was in the “9,000-plus range” and pushed for widening.
Historic Salisbury Foundation fought the widening to no avail and then saved numerous homes from the bulldozer. Several other homes were lost.
The decision to widen Long Street 30 years ago reflects a different approach to traffic engineering, Morris said.
“It probably made perfect sense to the people who were doing it at the time,” he said. “We have a lot better understanding of the impact of those kinds of decisions now.”
Signs of progress
Some neighborhoods in the south square of the city are enjoying newfound energy and hope spurred by unique projects.
Nearly 100 volunteers turned out for the first BlockWork, a one-day cleanup project held Oct. 23 in the 200 and 300 blocks of South Shaver Street and sponsored by the city. A community task force has been meeting for more than a year to create a Dixonville Cemetery Memorial.
Brooklyn-South Square leaders said they envision changes that will benefit the entire area, not just their neighborhood, and bring people together. Neighborhoods on the east side of the railroad tracks receive less attention and fewer resources than those on the west side, Sale said.
The city has an opportunity to boost tourism and preserve history by focusing on the Confederate prison site, including establishing a memorial for the thousands of Union soldiers who died there, Weaver said. His house at 424 E. Bank St. stands on the former prison grounds.
Even outlining the former boundaries of the prison and erecting educational signs and monuments throughout the area would bring people to Salisbury, Weaver said.
And slower speeds, crosswalks and bike lanes would encourage them to explore, he said.
A fragile neighborhood
Mayor Pro Tem Maggie Blackwell pushed for similar traffic changes in 2004 when she was president of the Fulton Height Neighborhood Association. They were adopted, and after two years, average speeds fell by 5 mph and traffic volume decreased by up to 300 vehicles per day.
Four-way stops could be just as effective in Brooklyn-South Square, Blackwell said.
Both neighborhoods have a high concentration of seniors and children, she said, but Brooklyn-South Square is more fragile than Fulton Heights.
“So in some ways, I feel these changes are even more critical for them,” Blackwell said.
Blackwell witnessed the traffic problems firsthand when she volunteered at BlockWork. Drivers sped through the Brooklyn-South Square, she said, using it as a cut-through to avoid Innes Street.
“I definitely think this is a worthwhile effort,” she said.
The city has two traffic requests ahead of Brooklyn-South Square’s, Morris said. City Council wants to allow left turns at the Square downtown, and the North Main Street neighborhood has requested traffic-calming measures, he said.
However, left turns at the Square weren’t funded this year, and the North Main traffic changes may hinge on completion of the Yadkin River Bridge, Morris said.
So City Council may go forward with South Long Street changes, he said, if the state agrees.
That would reverse a decision 30 years ago to widen a residential two-lane road into a five-lane thoroughfare.
“To put a five-lane road in here completely divides the neighborhood in two,” Anne Williams, executive director of Historic Salisbury Foundation, said in 1981. “It wouldn’t be quite as bad if we had more of a reason for a five-lane highway.”
Looking at South Long Street from her front porch last week, Lyles said three decades later, there’s still no good reason for such a wide, fast road in the middle of a neighborhood.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.
Long Street a major thoroughfare
Long Street is classified as a major thoroughfare. Other major thoroughfares in Salisbury include Main Street, Mooresville Road, Statesville Boulevard, Innes Street and Jake Alexander Boulevard. Fulton Street is a minor thoroughfare.
By definition, a major thoroughfare provides movement of traffic within and through urban areas.
A minor thoroughfare serves the dual purpose of providing access to abutting property and collecting traffic from local access streets and carrying it to the major thoroughfare system.
Source: City of Salisbury
Lanes Street vehicles per day
5 Long Street (near Innes) 7,600
4 Main Street (near Innes) 8,500
4 Statesville Boulevard (between Innes 16,000
and Jake Alexander Boulevard)
2 Mooresville Road (between Main 5,100
and Jake Alexander Boulevard)
2 South Fulton Street (400 block) 7,300
Source: City of Salisbury